On Wednesday, four astronauts are launched by SpaceX to the International Space Station, including a Russian cosmonaut, Anna Kikina, as part of a US-Russia collaboration. This is SpaceX’s fifth crewed mission to the International Space Station under NASA’s commercial crew contract. The rocket moves up on Wednesday from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It is scheduled to arrive at the space station on Thursday before 5 p.m.

Crew4 SpaceX project

The other three astronauts were Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada of NASA and Koichi Wakata from JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency).

Mann is the first American woman who travels to space. “I am very proud to represent Native Americans and my heritage,” Mann said before the flight, adding that each member of her crew comes from a different background. She is also serving as mission commander in spaceflight. She said that the flight was a smooth ride uphill when they successfully reached orbit. 

Despite the strained relations between US and Russia, this flight is seen as yet another sign that the two countries are finding ways to cooperate in space. For more than two decades, the countries have been the primary partners on the space station. 

Over the summer, the space agencies agreed to swap seats on their flights to maintain the continuous US and Russian presence aboard the 260-mile-high (420-kilometer-high) outpost. Even as global hostilities escalated in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, the barter was approved. The next crew exchange will take place in the spring.

Upon arrival at the ISS, the crew will join the seven astronauts already on board the ISS. The crew astronauts then take spacewalks (excursions from the ISS), maintain the appearance of the space station, and conduct more than 200 scientific experiments.

SpaceX launched with Crew4

“Experiments include investigating human organ printing in space, understanding fuel systems on the moon, and improving our understanding of heart disease.”

The crew will spend about six months in the orbiting laboratory.

NASA and Roscosmos signed an agreement in July that Russian astronauts will fly on American rockets and NASA astronauts on Russian rockets. In 1994, NASA began transporting cosmonauts on its space shuttles, first to Russia’s Mir space station and then to the fledgling space station. The Columbia reentry disaster in 2003 put an end to it. However, American astronauts continued to board Russian rockets for tens of millions of dollars per seat.

The current management agreement for the station expires in 2024. During the Trump administration, NASA officials proposed retiring the International Space Station and shifting to commercial alternatives. However, no private space stations appeared likely to be launched that quickly, and NASA now says it wants to keep the I.S.S. operation until 2030.

Russia has stated that it will build its space station but also says it will host the I.S.S. until done. Dmitry Rogozin threatened Russia to abandon the project, but Russia never announced it officially that it would withdraw before the contract expired in 2024.

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